If you're not up for the full 19.4 kilometers of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing or if the weather has taken a turn for the worse and the Crossing is closed - the 6 kilometer loop trail to Taranaki Falls is a perfect introduction to Tongariro National Park. We spent quite a good amount of time dawdling at the two beautiful waterfalls, taking in views of both Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe, and snapping photos that now hang on our walls - so the loop took us about 3 hours to complete.
The trail begins along the Mangatepopo Track from Whakapapa Village, also the start of the longer Tongariro Northern Circuit, and then a fork veers off to take you to Taranaki Falls. This portion of the trail is completely unsheltered - so be prepared to deal with whatever the weather has in store. During our mid-February hike, it was blazing hot - so we were thankful for sunblock, hats, and lots of water. We did encounter one small obstacle, which led us to discover the loop option of the trail; lots of ground dwelling bees - a creature which I'm just not a fan of. So needless, to say - I was not interested in heading back the way we came.
Taking the fork towards the Falls, we found some much needed shade as well as a gorgeous forest and a beautiful waterfall which we initially thought to be Taranaki Falls. Little did we know what awaited us further along the trail.
Emerging from the forest, the trail runs along unsheltered from the elements again. Luckily, the actual Taranaki Falls will begin to peek out along the cliffs.
The actual Taranaki Falls does not disappoint with it's 20 meter drop down the edge of 15,000 year old lava flow. It's easy to scramble down to the falls over the rocks and there are few nearby benches to set up the perfect picnic spot.
After stopping to admire the Falls be sure to join the Waihohonu Track, also part of the Tongariro Northern Circuit, because the best views are yet to come.
These views of Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe are the ones that have stuck with me and seem to beckon for my return. The final one was one of the two images from our honeymoon trip to New Zealand that I chose to blow up and hang on our wall. I could have lingered on this part of the loop for hours, taking in these perfect scenes.
As a last note, the crystal clear water flowing in the stream here makes for quite the perfect place to dunk your head on on a hot day.